What is it?
Blackboard Ally is a tool which integrates with Moodle to help you make your Moodle course, and content (e.g. PowerPoints) inclusive and accessible. It can enhance the experience on Moodle for both teachers and students. For staff, it can guide you through the steps you need to make to update you content so that it is more accessible; for students, Blackboard Ally can automatically convert course resources into a variety of formats, from HTML and e-book for reading on mobile devices, to Electronic Braille for the visually impaired, and audio for learning on the go. This can be disabled by teachers on a Moodle course if needed.
Blackboard Ally automatically scans your original content (e.g. PowerPoints, Word Documents and PDFs), and performs a series of steps to advise on their accessibility:
- Blackboard Ally automatically generates alternative formats for students to download
- It provides staff with accessibility scores for your entire course content (this can only be seen by staff and not by students!) It also provides quick-tips to make content more accessible
- It gives staff feedback on how to improve your accessibility
Although Blackboard Ally is not a solution for all accessibility issues (see Writing Accessible Technical Content), it gives an indication of how accessible your content is and what changes can be made to improve this. Remember: only staff can see the accessibility scores, and this is to be used to help address key accessibility issues with course content.
How might I use it?
Check the accessibility of your course
In Moodle, staff can check the overall accessibility of their course by viewing a course report. This gives an overview of documents in one interface and further guidance about how to fix them. Accessibility scores in Blackboard Ally are there to assist staff in creating inclusive content for all learners – the scores are not collected or used to assess individual staff and are not visible to students.
Check the accessibility of individual files
Staff will see a small metre icon next to any uploaded content giving an indication of how accessible it is:
|Low (0-33%) There are severe accessibility issues.|
|Medium (34-66%) The file is somewhat accessible and needs improvement.|
|High (67-99%) The file is accessible but more improvements are possible.|
|Perfect (100%) Ally didn't identify any accessibility issues but further improvements may still be possible.|
Choosing this icon will detail issues along with helpful guidance and a simple interface to fix them.
Students do not see accessibility indicators, the only interaction they have with Blackboard Ally is downloading automatically generated alternative formats. We do not expect staff to make all of the course content 100% accessible. Instead, use the course and individual content reports to build up a picture of the accessibility of your course content, and which steps you need to make to improve the accessibility scores. Often a few simple steps (such as using alt-text for images) can have a really big impact, and again Ally provides these types of tips in the context of your course and course content.
How do students use it effectively?
There are many benefits to providing accessible documents and alternative formats - this supports the learning for all students including those without a disability.
Students interact indirectly with Blackboard Ally through staff improving accessibility of the documents uploaded to Moodle, and also directly through accessing the auto-generated alternative formats of those files. Some of these advantages could include:
- Documents have clear heading structure allows for easy navigation, e.g. an automatic table of contents to be generated.
- A tagged PDF and electronic Braille help students with visual impairments
- Audio mp3 version may be used alongside the original text to increase engagement with the content and reduce cognitive load for students with dyslexia, English as a foreign language or those listening on the go.
- Students accessing documents as HTML and ePub can benefit from text reflowing in these documents, which allow devices such as tablets/phones to be used for reading on the move or as a supplementary screen alongside a laptop.
What are the pros & cons?
- Automatic: overview and alternative format is automatic for staff
- Students are empowered to make use of documents to suit their needs
- Staff have a tool that highlights accessibility issues and quick fixes to improve accessibility
- Not all files can generate an alternative format (e.g. PDFs compiled in LaTeX)
- The accessibility score is automatically generated and can contain false positives
- Content can not be automatically improved -staff will need to make the changes to the original content files
- Read case studies from institutions who have used Blackboard Ally to create inclusive learning environments.
- JISC: Accessibility regulations - what you need to know
- Government guidelines: Understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies